School Board Hears of Three COVID-19 Cases at Elm Lawn

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Cameron Bren

MIDDLETON–Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District (MCPASD) Board of Education member Bob Green asked Superintendent Dana Monogue to comment on the closure of Elm Lawn Elementary following three individuals testing positive for COVID-19 at the board’s regular meeting Oct. 12. 

Monogue said three staff members tested positive at the building and all quarantining and contact tracing protocols have been used. The district is working with Public Health of Madison and Dane County (PHMDC) to determine the best course of action.

The building is closed through the end of the week for deep cleaning. All staff at the building have been alerted, Monogue said. The families of a small number of students attending Elm Lawn in-person were also contacted.

Green said going forward he would like any cases and closures included in the pandemic planning discussions.

In an interview Tuesday morning, MCPASD Communication Director Perry Hibner said the school was contacted by PHMDC around 3 p.m. on Monday to let them know about the Elm Lawn cases.

Hibner said other staff or students have tested positive since the district began bringing in a handful of K-2 students, staff and teachers, but they have been in isolated situations such as working virtually or without contact to others in schools. Students who receive in-person learning are those that still have connectivity issues or an IEP (Individual Education plan) that requires in-person learning. All of the grade levels have a small number of in-person students Hibner stated.

“We’ve had some other positives (cases) but no exposure,” Hibner said. 

He added that PHMDC did not require the school to close, and that after the deep cleaning by staff, Elm Lawn is scheduled to reopen on Oct. 19.

Hibner said testing is not required for those entering the buildings, and that staff are instructed to remain at home if they display any symptoms.

“We will continue to work with health officials to contact trace with people who have tested positive,” he said. 

Board members also shared communications they have received from community members about the board’s decision to continue virtual learning through the semester or when public health metrics laid out by Public Health Madison Dane County are met.

Board member Minza Karim said she received numerous emails both criticizing and supporting her decision to vote in favor of continued virtual learning. One message went to the extreme questioning her right to be on the board because of her faith and color of her skin. 

Green said he was appalled to hear that and troubled that while he also received a lot of positive and negative emails he did experience any type of bigoted attacks. 

Board member Bob Hesselbein said he received a lot of emails which were mostly positive but pointed out there are currently efforts underway to recall himself and Karim.

Board member Katy Morgan said she also received numerous communications one of which went as far as accusing her of having a conflict of interest because she has a child with special needs in the district. 

Several board members condemned the personal and derisive attacks. Paul Kinne shared a message for anyone watching the board meeting.

“There is absolutely no room in our conversation for hateful speech from any member of the public,” Kinne said. “It is not only disgusting but it is counterproductive.”

The board reviewed the latest public health data related to the Covid-19 pandemic and the district’s efforts to assist families in virtual learning.

Monogue presented the latest local health data. The case rate average in Dane County over the last 14 days dropped slightly to 126 from the previous two-week average of 133.

She said PHMDC metrics have not yet been met for any specific grade level bands but K-2 education in Dane County is still allowed since meeting the metrics on August 18 despite sustaining surpassed rates since.

Monogue noted the Deforest and Oregon school districts started elementary blended models last week.

As of Oct 8. Dane County had 120 new cases per 100,000 which is down from 179 but still puts the district in the CDC higher risk of transmission category.

Monogue pointed out another important number which is the percentage of tests that are positive which is currently at 3.3 percent down from 3.6 percent.

She explained PHMDC is also tracking new and total cases by census tracts which is helpful in observing community spread. By the latest count there are new cases in all but one of the district’s 15 census tracts. 

The number of people currently in Dane County hospitals being treated for Covid-19 is at the highest point since the start of the pandemic, surging up to 70 individuals. 

Deputy Superintendent Sheri Cyra said the district is aware of inconsistencies in virtual learning throughout the district particularly at the elementary level. Director of Elementary Education Rainey Briggs is meeting with elementary school principals to review instructional expectations and determine if adjustments need to be made. 

Cyra said administrators can set expectations for overall instruction but teachers will always determine which students need more or less individual or small group instruction. 

Business Services Director Lori Ames explained the district is ramping up food preparation and distribution. Soon busses will be distributing meals as well as material drop off and pick up.

Cyra said the program has grown from 82 students in the first week to now over 600. However, there is concern about the number of families that are eligible for free and reduced lunch but are facing barriers to access the meals. Cyra said the district created a Spanish language help line and are surveying families to find other barriers.

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